What a College Student Needs from the Church

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to share a guest blogger with you, but I am overjoyed for that guest blogger to be Miss Erin Jagus!  I had the privilege of getting to know Erin last year as she is a Berry College student and have loved learning more about her heart to love the people around her fiercely.  Erin shared her experiences on what she’s learned college students need from a church congregation.


I have had the wonderful blessing of being a part of a revival that is taking place at Berry College this year. With the scholarship that I have, I live on Berry’s campus year-round (yes even summer and most of winter break) and work. This past summer, a student started to lead a worship night in our dorm’s common space. It was simply a night to come and worship each week. A friend of mine, and a LifeCast (read more about LifeCast here) short term intern last year, was on campus during the training week before LifeCast. On that Thursday, he came to the worship night and the Lord gave him a beautiful vision—to keep this going even when the school year starts. When school started, my friend asked me to speak. We were expecting maybe 20 people to show up, but the Lord had other plans. Fifty-nine people packed into a common space on campus that first week. Since then, we have continued meeting under the name “Common Worship” in different spaces across campus each week and the Lord has been moving in mighty ways. Now, I get to do more behind-the-scenes work along with seven others who have a heart of leadership and a passion for seeing our community grow closer to the Lord.

Part of being behind-the-scenes means that I get to sit in on a lot of meetings. A lot of the meetings thus far in the semester have been discussing whether Common Worship needs to become a Student Organization. When we are asked this, we always are told to be thinking of how to answer the questions “What need are you meeting on campus?” and “How is what you’re doing any different from what other religious groups are doing?”

This is a slightly weird thing to think about, because in simple explanation, it might sound similar to any other religious group meeting. We gather, pray, sing, someone speaks, we sing, pray, and then we disperse. Why is what Common Worship is doing different? What need is Common Worship meeting? To be honest, I don’t have a clear answer. Common Worship is completely student-lead and most of us are under the age of 20. In talking to the leadership team and those that come every week, here were some of the common themes:


  1. Prayer: Priscilla Shirer would tell you that prayer is part of the armor of God in Ephesians 6 (see verse 18), and I would wholeheartedly agree with her. Instead of having prayer be the last thought, God is teaching us to make it one of our first responses to any situation. In preparation for our weekly event, the leadership team spends a great deal of time on our faces—both as a group corporately thanking Him and asking the Lord to have His way in us, then individually asking the Lord to guide us and make us bold. One of the sweetest parts of my week is after Common Worship is over. After hanging out and packing up, we go to next week’s location and just pray over the space, the speaker who will share, and the community that will come. We know that our gathering only happens once a week, but we believe that the Lord is working in the hearts of His people always.


  1. Community: A huge part of the college experience is finding where you belong. A huge part of the human experience is wanting to feel known. Our hearts were made for connection; our souls were made for community. One of my personal passions is a community that is intentional. Not just a community that knows names and faces, but a community that knows each other’s joys and sorrows. A community that does not just come together once a week, but a community that does life together. College students love coffee, love food, and love conversation. Conversation leads to connection and connection leads to community. I think intentional communities give us a small taste of heaven on earth.


  1. Authenticity: Everyone wants to know that they are not alone in what they are going through, genuinely and really. No one wants a performer, someone who will put on their “Christian mask” for a night and play a role. Be willing to stop pretending like everything is alright. Be honest. Be open. Be genuine. Be real. We learn from each other’s stories. I love how the Lord teaches through trials and pain but does not leave them to be painful. He uses them for His glory in His timing. What I love about an authentic environment is that it spreads—from one heart to another to a community to the world. I think authenticity is the place where shackles of religion break off and lead to a real relationship with the Father.


There are people who regularly attend Common Worship each week who do not regularly attend a church in Rome. To be completely honest with you, I am still on a journey to find a church to attend and serve.

But the church is not just a building to attend each Sunday and Wednesday. We are the Church. You are the church. I am the church.

As believers, we are image bearers. A synonym for bearer is “bringer”. We bring the image of God, the kingdom of heaven, to the Earth through the power of Christ at work within us.

I cannot express to you enough just how in awe I am of what God is doing here. He is reviving this campus, realigning our heartbeats to His. He is preparing the hearts of this campus for greater things. Getting to serve at Common Worship makes me feel alive—body, mind, and soul. Getting to worship with fellow college students at Common Worship makes me feel alive—body, mind, and soul. Our generation is yearning to know the Lord. Our generation is asking the Lord to lead us from dead religion to dynamic relationship.


Guest blog: Groundhog Day

This is my first time sharing a guest post from someone I’ve only met virtually.  My family has graciously received story after story from friends around us of their shared experience losing a parent and the grief that follows.  My brother, Michael shared with our family when Troy’s mom’s cancer continued to spread.  We prayed for her knowing the pain of losing a parent.  Troy’s mom soon lost her battle to cancer on this side of Heaven.  Michael shared when he and Troy met, they both hugged with no words, but eyes full of tears.

We would have never anticipated the stories we would hear and share this year with new friends and old.  May we slow down our own plans and priorities and attune ourselves to receive and share in life’s joys and sufferings with those who God brings in our path.  Thanks for sharing, Troy.

troy blog

(taken October 23rd 1988, on my way to boot camp)

The world somehow feels different now. Every day I wake up, there is an unexplainable emptiness –an emptiness of having lost one of the greatest gifts of life -a parent’s unconditional love.

The emptiness feels like a small child who ventures out from safety, then they return to home base for a safe reunion.  For me, home base was my parents.  As we get older, we venture further from that base.  One day, we leave for good to start college or in my case, to join the Navy.  However far away we go, that familiar comfort of home base will always be there when we return.  Even in my midlife, I have a loving family of my own away from “home”, yet I know there is a home base beyond the four walls I now call home.

I knew home and its dependability, but the security of having a home base died for me on Feb 15th at 11:05pm when my mom took her last breath.

The gravity of such a loss threw me into stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, in that order – or so I think.  8 months.  8 months since her diagnosis with pancreatic cancer. I guess the grief really began then, June 28th, 2016.

I thought at the time, of writing this piece, I was reaching acceptance.  I am only just now accepting the diagnosis. This could not possibly happen to my mother and definitely not the end result.  It still seems so unimaginable.

The very week of Christmas we learned that chemotherapy was having no affect on the tumor.  In fact, the tumor had grown and spread to other organs.  The doctor recommended that my mom surround herself with loved ones and enjoy each day until the end.  She still seemed so full of life.  It just couldn’t be real.

Each week she became weaker and weaker.  Each passing minute, a hopeless step closer to the inevitable.

In the last 3 weeks of her life, I woke up everyday to confront and face the reality again and again. It felt like the movie Groundhog Day.  Each day, I began the process of grief again.  Every morning, it felt new and still so unbelievable again.  By the end of the day, there was peace.  And then just like clock work, I would wake up and feel the same sadness I had the morning before.

On the day she died, I have never felt more relieved.  Then, the relief was replaced with gravity.  Gravity of my “home base” being lost forever.  Again.  Every morning new and empty.  Of course, my geographical “home” will always be in the same place, but my safety of my mother’s unconditional love will be missed forever.

Today is March 3, 2017 – a whole 2 weeks and 1.5 days since my mother passed away and every morning it is new.  New and empty, the pain repeating itself and then the peace, followed by another painful morning.

I miss you, Mommy.

-Troy Willis

Guest blog: Summer to Winter

My guest blogger today is my very own big brother.


Michael is 6 years older than me and over 6 feet tall.  He has always been the big and strong brother, but in the past year has been brave in whole new ways.  I remember the very first night we were in the hospital together.  Michael and I got locked out getting something from the car and had to take a long way around to get back to the small room our family would be sleeping in that night.  Michael told me he was feeling the pressure to be the strong one, to be less emotional and more fearless, despite the fact that he was just as scared as the rest of us.  I was so proud of his openness and have only been overwhelmingly proud since of the courage he has taken to be angry, hurt, broken, and lost, because that’s the road grief walks you down.  Michael got all of the creative genes in our family as you’ll see in his writing style.

Thankful for you.

“Learning to weep, learning to vigil, learning to wait for the dawn. Perhaps this is what it means to be human.” – Henri J. M. Nouwen

This summer – I was reeling from the loss of my father, but found myself having to still do my job. I had flown to California for our largest annual event and had been assigned to filming and conducting some really personal interviews.

In this process, and between interviews, I overheard a conversation begin with a gentleman I did not know, about how his mom had just been diagnosed with cancer. So early in the process that they had no action plan yet, no treatment arranged. Just the sudden weight of it.

By the time we actually introduced ourselves to each other, it was a hug and not a handshake. And we were both in tears.

He and I have kept in touch, often, since that day in the summer. Me to check on his mom and his family, and he to check on mine.

Thursday night, I found out his mom passed away.

I wept for a woman I had never met.

I wept for my friend and his family.

I walked to dinner with my head swirling, unable to be a part of the conversations around me.

And when I made it back to my bed I turned out the lights and typed this note on my phone.

How do you offer “hope” when you can be so certain it cannot yet be felt?

Perhaps “hope” in these moments, is that you don’t hurt alone.

And that maybe, hurting is such a deep part of being human.

Weep. Mourn. Wail.
Freely. Openly.
Let no man question you for this.
Let no man doubt your marrow.
There is so much strength – in coming undone.
I was told grief is love’s receipt.
And I let it wash over me. Still do.
Wave after wave.
Left rooms to weep in solitude.
Restaurants. Bathrooms. Hallways. Pulled over and bottomed out. Head on my steering wheel. 
Stood sobbing in the shower. 
Still do.
The friends that know that broken, will stand tall when you cannot. 
Texts. Calls. Dinner. Silent moments sitting. Pain filling their eyes. 
An overflow of their own.
These moments are pure. 
Be carried and baptized in their wholeness.
And throw your rocks at the moon. 
Every question and hurt and pain and doubt and fear hurled into the night sky. 
Full force. 
Core to extremity. 
Til you collapse exhausted on a tear dotted pillow.
And wake up only to find the first fleeting moments of the day, where you actually have to remind yourself how much you have lost. 
And how much you hurt. 
And you sink back into your mattress…
To weep. Mourn. Wail. Freely. Openly.

-Michael James Dalton

Guest blog: My battle with my body

What a true honor it is to introduce you to Mrs. Jillian Lybrand Dean, who I affectionately know as JillyBear.  Jillian came on staff in the student ministry in my church when I was in 9th grade and we have been inseparable ever since.  Whatever our souls are made of, they’re the same and it is such a sweet gift I cannot truly put words to.  Jillian and her husband James Dean live in the great state of Oklahoma where they do ministry and are raising Miss Eliza Kate who we affectionately call EKD 2.0.

As many of you know, my dad died recently of a heart attack.  While we so clearly see this was the Lord’s timing and plan, my family has talked about making many changes in our lifestyles to focusing on physical health, what I truly consider to be an act of worship.  I pray you hear Jillian’s heart of encouragement in how to truly care for our bodies and what it teaches us about caring for our spirits as well.

May you be half as transformed and inspired by Jillian as I am on a daily basis.


My battle against my body began when I was about 15. It may have begun sooner, but that’s when the recognition of weight, body types, and my poor understanding of nutrition began. I was running cross country, I could literally eat anything I wanted (and did) and somehow in the middle of my hungry hungry hippo days, I was a  size 0… If you want to stop reading right now, I would understand, but I would love to encourage you to stick it out. You can’t be the winning hippo and continue to see your feet. You see, my understanding of food was more of fairy tale than a reality. I just thought if I worked hard enough it should melt off, having no understanding of thyroids, metabolisms, digestion system, and most cruel of all… age!

Fast forward to college: My senior year, I worked out regularly, ate pretty well, or so I thought, but my health was the worst it had ever been, and I was in my early 20’s. I won’t go into all the details, but my weight would fluctuate non-stop creating more issues both physiologically and emotionally than ever before. My hair even began falling out. I wanted to sleep all day, had more stomach issues than I would care to remember (or say in mixed company), and my skin was showing signs of my poor health. Definitely not what I went to college for!

I knew I needed help. A family friend recommended a nutritionist and I eagerly went to see him, ready to dive in and see what was going on. He needed a hair sample, I felt like he plucked my last remaining hair, but I was desperate. The results came back and the lists of things and products I should avoid reminded me of something a politician would read during a filibuster. I was overwhelmed, alone, and fearful.

He explained a few things to me about my body: my adrenal gland was shot (I had never heard of said adrenal gland), and I should basically avoid everything that I love: breads, sugars, caffeine. You name it. I probably wasn’t supposed to eat it. So then I asked the question, well what can I eat? I know this sounds dramatic, but I will never forget the blue sticky note he wrote on. It was my food list. Really?!? A Post-It note. Didn’t he know I’m Southern and that sweet tea runs through my veins? He didn’t seem very sympathetic.

He said, “Jillian, I know this seems overwhelming, but right now this is equivalent to a flat tire, and if you don’t fix this now, in a few years you will be having far more issues.” I wish I could tell you I listened to everything and my life was changed… I wish I could, but I didn’t. At that point in my life, I was working extreme hours and truly tried my best, but saw no results. Eventually, I just gave up. Truly deflated.

God placed several people in my life who saw my struggle that encouraged me to revisit what I learned. So I did. I followed the blue sticky note for 30 days. It was just 30 days, right? I actually went 40 and decided that this was probably in my head and I would be fine…I grabbed a sub sandwich and boy did it taste good topped off with a Coke. Within minutes, I felt like I had the flu, my stomach felt like I had eaten a rock, and my muscles were actually aching. I was in bed for two days. I wish I was exaggerating.

Slowly but surely, I started a path to health by cutting gluten out of my diet completely (as well as making sure they weren’t in other products I used daily), sacrificing my still quite large intake of caffeine, and I started to do yoga for healing.

The road to health is a long journey. Each person’s is different and unique. For the longest time, my body wasn’t able to receive the proper nutrients because it was bogged down by allergens my body was trying to fight. Our Spiritual wellness is no different. We have to cleanse ourself of all the “junk” we’ve put in ourselves that was never originally designed to be a part of us… You know what I mean? That bad body image, fears of failure, or even our own thoughts and beliefs confusing us. We choose to ingest that. We choose to swallow it and allow it to become a part of our design. We allow it to fester and the infection bores so deep it is almost impossible to see life through a different lens.

It’s so easy to just throw on some Netflix when I’m folding laundry or doing something else around the house. I find favorite shows and get sucked into the season long wormhole, only to be bated into watching the first episode of the next season because the finale was on such a cliffhanger that I couldn’t go another day without knowing how it all turned out.. Unless it’s New Girl… and then you know Zoey will get through whatever problem with her charming smile and carefree attitude! I love her, judge sparingly please! But then as I’m brushing my teeth I think about how much time I spent following a fictional city girl, and how much time I missed getting to know the creator of the universe. I give Jesus my best Zoey smile and promise to do better, but it doesn’t happen. It doesn’t happen when I don’t carve out time specifically for getting to know my Savior. That’s the challenge I give to you, and one that I have placed upon myself. If we want to clean up the foggy lens we have been looking through, we have to listen to someone who knows what a clear lens is. That’s the important thing about drawing from the Word of God, when I’m doing it, it’s the first voice I hear, and it drowns out my New Girl world.

It’s time consuming reading God’s word. It’s time consuming to have a healthy prayer life. The results aren’t quick and a lot of times it feels like we are stuck on that dreaded machine.. The treadmill.  We can feel like we are on a spiritual treadmill, because we expect to humbly rival Mother Theresa after a week of bible study. Sorry, not happening. You have to sweat it out. Put down that chic Bible Study for a day or so and just dwell in His word. Nothing wrong with a bible study, but sometimes those are like turning the treadmill on and then sitting in your lawn chair in the garage drinking sweet tea. You spent time with the machine on but didn’t get any real work done. Don’t let someone else’s work allow you to sit in the lawn chair. Pick up your bible and start the ugly face, “I don’t know if I can make it,” scripture run. Read it, let it marinate in your soul, paraphrase it in your words, ask yourself what your life would look like if you applied it to your life. When you’ve done what you can, pick up a commentary on the passage you just read, now open the bible study… See how much deeper it is when you start the work on your own. FYI. I learn the most when I think I understand scripture and then find out I didn’t have it in the right context… I remember instruction and it pushes me deeper in Jesus.

Pause an episode of Netflix and spend it in prayer for all the people that surround you. Better yet, pray or listen to the Bible App while you exercise. I know it sounds crazy but you can’t absorb anything truly until you have the understanding of the nutrients at hand and that play a part. Ingesting something doesn’t constitute results.This is even more true for our spiritual lives. The height of what you put in is the height of your results.
Matthew 6:22:
The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light.

Spiritual wellness comes from allowing Jesus to tune you into Himself. See Him! When you see Him for the magnificent savior He is, you will find the rest of your life shifting into alignment. Trials will come, dark days, unfortunately are always on the horizon. Tuning into Jesus gives us the strength to lean into and the perspective that sees eternity in the days ahead instead of our momentary messes.

What are those warning signs that seem to creep up Spiritually? For me, I become less empathetic to His people. I get frustrated easily, and everything can sound insurmountable at the drop of a hat. I second guess my purpose and giftings He has entrusted me with seem to disappear when I’m depending on His words through a second source or even through my own foggy lens. These are the allergens to my spiritual health. They prohibit me from growth and wellness. I need the voice of my Creator. In order to do that… I have to detox , and insert those nutrients of His word so the real absorption begins and my lens becomes more clear.  And it isn’t always pretty at first.


Over the last three years of my journey I can tell you this: I feel better physically and that directly impacts my purpose. My spiritual health is a direct measure of my personal health. These go hand in hand for me. I know that my journey is not over, just as my spiritual journey is not. The more growth I see and experience, the more refinement must occur which in return requires more sweat equity. Our Creator designed us to find peace and grace knowing that today is preparation for the days ahead. My desire is to be full of light, in this and through this, I pray my lens would become more clear. I pray that you would see Jesus for all that He is.

Women of Valor

This month’s guest blogger is Tonja Smith.  There are so many things I can say about Tonja and it is all too difficult to sum her up in just a few sentences.  Tonja is a mother of 4 and has her own medical transcription company.  She is an activist in her community and leads a group for single moms in my home church.  Furthermore, Tonja was my discipleship leader from when I was 12 years old until 18.  We met each Sunday night and she had to put up with all kinds of crazy from my group.  Tonja has definitely been a spiritual mama for me, she has prayed big and fierce prayers for me, and truly inspires me in her passion for studying Scripture.  I pray you enjoy the wisdom she shares in this post as it is just a glimpse of the wisdom she has shared with me over the past 10 years. tonja


God’s ways are higher than our ways, His plans are always the best plans to follow, and they are laid out for us in His Word. The Tabernacle in the Wilderness is described in 50 chapters and is a shadow of the Heavenly sanctuary, which is why Moses was given a specific pattern to follow. Hebrews 8:5 says, “They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: ‘See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” It’s a copy of the throne room of God, and the High Priest, Yeshua, is wearing the priestly garments.  In speaking of the Heavenly pattern, women have a specific role to play in building and serving in the Tabernacle.  The women, whose hearts were willing, gave materials used in the Tabernacle to make the coverings, tapestries, curtains, the bronze laver and the priestly garments.  Under the direction of Moses, and the Spirit of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge given to Bezalel (in the shadow of God) and Oholiav (Father’s tent), everyone who the Lord gave ability to do the work of the Sanctuary worked together.

Exodus 35 gives this description in verses 25-26: “All the women who were skilled at spinning got to work and brought what they had spun, the blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and the fine linen. Likewise the women whose heart stirred them to use the skill, spun the goat’s hair.” The Tent of Meeting consisted of several layers of materials with the Tabernacle being the inner layer made of wood, silver, and gold, and the walls lined with the finely woven linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, with cherubim woven into them. The vail that covered the entrance was also of this same woven material with cherubim woven in. The next layer was a tent over the Tabernacle which is made of curtains of goat’s hair.

Exodus 38:8 says, “He made the basin of bronze with its base of bronze from the mirrors of the women serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting.” This bronze basin, or laver, was used by the priests to wash their hands and feet before entering the tent of meeting. Exodus 39:1 says, “From the blue, purple and scarlet yarn they made the garments for officiating, for serving in the Holy Place and they made the holy garments for Aaron, as Adonai had ordered Moses.” Exodus 39:27-29 says, “They made the tunics of finely woven linen for Aaron and his sons, the turban of fine linen, the linen shorts, and the sash of finely woven linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, the work of a weaver in colors – as Adonai had ordered Moses.”

The Lord stirred hearts and gifted people to do all the work for the sanctuary, and women were very much a part of this.  You can see echoes of this in Proverbs 31, in the woman of noble character. “She procures a supply of wool and flax and works with willing hands.” (vs 13). “She puts her hands to the staff with the flax; her fingers hold the spinning rod.” (vs 19). “When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. She makes coverings of tapestry for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple…She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.” (vs. 21-22, 24). This woman is described as an entrepreneur and caretaker of her family and those around her. Strength and honor are her clothing.

Ruth is also described as a “woman of noble character” by Boaz. This term in Hebrew is chayil, which means army, strength, valor, ability, wealth, and is most often translated as army. When Boaz covers her with His garment as her Kinsman-Redeemer, it is a marriage proposal and it is a picture of our Redeemer who covers us with his Robe of Righteousness as spoken of in Isaiah 61, His priestly garment that fills the entire Heavenly Temple as described in Isaiah 6.

1 Peter 2 says those who come to Yeshua the Messiah are being built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices. Women are part of this service, part of this Heavenly army. Women of valor working in the Kingdom of God as a warrior bride, weaving the threads of Spirit and Truth into her family and those around her. This is her garment of praise. 

Eve played a role in sin in the garden of Eden, leaving the cherubim guarding the way back in to the Tree of Life.  Women are given the task of contributing to weaving the tapestries on the walls of the Tabernacle, and the curtain of separation containing the cherubim. This is the curtain that was torn as the Messiah gave His life to save ours, granting a way back to God’s presence.  When He was crucified, His garments were divided between the soldiers, and “They also took the tunic, which was seamless, woven in one piece from the top.” They cast lots for this garment and did not tear it. (John 19, Ex 39:22-23?). This was a priestly garment. Perhaps it was Mary who wove this garment for Him. It was a woman who washed the feet of Yeshua with her hair before His sacrifice and entry into the Holy of Holies in Heaven. Women were the last ones at the cross and the first ones at the garden tomb to see the stone had been rolled away by the angel of the Lord.  They were the first witnesses to the resurrected Messiah.  “Adonai gives the command; the women with the good news are a mighty army!” (Psalm 68:11). Indeed this is what it looks like to minister at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and we are invited to come all the way in, beyond the curtain to dwell with the One who came to Tabernacle among us.

We are to have our garments ready, as spoken in Revelation 19:

“A voice went out from the throne, saying,

‘Praise our God, all you His servants,

You who fear Him, small and great!’

Then I heard what sounded like the roar of a huge crowd,

like the sound of rushing waters, like loud peals of thunder, saying,


Adonai, God of heaven’s armies, has begun to reign!

Let us rejoice and be glad!

Let us give Him the glory!

For the time has come for the wedding of the Lamb,

And his Bride has prepared herself –

Fine linen, bright and clean has been given her to wear.”


A new year but an old you

Hey there, thanks for stopping by.  I found out that there are these things good bloggers create called “goals”.  They kind of scared me a lot but I ended up making a few, one of which was to have a guest blogger each month, because there are too many wise people you need to hear from before you hear from me.  So naturally I started with one of my wisest and dearest of friends, Katie Johnson.

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Katie and I met as scared little freshmen entering college together.  She is a beautiful soul from Knoxville, TN who loves psychology, tea, and the people around her better than anyone I know.  There are few people I am more honored to introduce you to.  I pray her words bless you richly as her friendship has so richly blessed me.


I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist. My life may not have seemed completely in order from the outside- perfect handwriting, a pristine workspace, a flawless wardrobe, straight A’s – but my perfectionism ran deeper than what I wore or what I got on a report card. Early on, I developed an addiction to performance. My self-worth came from the things I did well and a deep sense of worthlessness from the things I did not. With my significance hanging in the balance of performance, I became a slave to “doing the right thing” and a “just try harder” mentality. Ultimately, my deeply rooted performance addiction became entangled in my identity.

Maybe you aren’t a slave to perfectionism. But we’re all slaves to something– control, comfort, approval, achievement, a relationship, a perfect body, an idea, a desire, a dream. Often the things that keep us in bondage are good things that have been distorted into something destructive to our bodies, our souls, or our spirits. Whatever the case, we are all in a sense, slaves to our past.

This becomes painfully clear around New Years, a time for a fresh start and a “new you.” It is not long before we discover how difficult it is to change our behaviors and ourselves. The truth is no one gets a fresh start on January 1st or any other day of the year. What we do, what we think, and who we are- these are all products of a lifetime of work. We have spent years behaving in certain ways, forming habits, and establishing thought patterns. And not only this, we find a natural, human resistance in ourselves as well. The apostle Paul puts words to our condition in Romans 7: We do what we don’t want to do and we don’t do what we want to do. The person we find ourselves to be at the start of a new year is not really all that new.

For me, writing up my resolutions for the New Year was my chance to finally be perfect. I could start over with a clean slate and one by one overcome my imperfections- with food, with relationships, with my studies, with my faith. I could finally be all things to all people. I could finally get right with God.

But, every year, no matter how much I did or how hard I tried, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was dirty, defective, and never enough. In an attempt to flee from those feelings and beliefs, I tried harder and harder than before. In the end, all I became was overinvolved, overcommitted, and utterly exhausted.

After years of this, I began to feel more and more defeated as the demands on my time and energy became more stressful. In the end, this doing more, being more lifestyle could not be sustained. I was forced to take a leave of absence from college halfway through my second year to recover from medically diagnosed “physical, mental, and emotional depletion.” At the time, this was the ultimate failure. Two years later and a soon to be a college graduate, I see that this “great failure” was what freed me from my never-ending quest to be perfect. I stopped trying to do the all the right things, to perform in a certain way, to attempt perfection. I learned that it is not what I do, but who I am that ultimately matters.

I’ve been there. You try and try and nothing changes, you remain trapped in old habits and patterns of living. No matter what you do, you never get to where you’re going or achieve the goals you set. You never become that person you want to be or live the life you’ve imaged or find the person you long for. You are exhausted. You are depleted. You are done. If this is you, let your ears hear this truth: stop trying and start abiding.

This is not a call to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get your life together, to stop doing this and start doing that, to try this new weight loss plan or read through the bible in a year. This is not even a call to try harder to be the person you’ve always wanted to be. This is a call to lay down your lives and let the one who made you help you take it back up again. In losing your life, you gain it. Sometimes, laying down your life means laying down your efforts to be better and try harder- especially if the trying is what’s killing you.

Weary soul, you can rest. It’s okay. Stop trying. Stop striving. Stop trying to do the “right thing.” Stop scanning your Bible for more rules to follow. Stop punishing yourself for your failures. Stop resolving to do more and try harder. Stop with the mental checklists and to-do lists of things that must be done before you can truly rest. Stop grasping at that tempting mirage of perfection, which always lies just beyond your reach. Rest.

By no means am I saying to slack off from our work, to shrink from responsibility, to settle for mediocre friendships and relationships, or walk through our lives half-heartedly. As image bearers of God in Christ our work should be done with excellence, our relationships should reflect deep love and care, and our lives should be lived to fullest human capacity. As children of God, we should walk through all of our days wide-awake and fully alive. But this sort of life does not come through simply trying harder.

Abundant life is the natural condition of an individual characterized by a trusting and conversational relationship with the living God.

Only in Him do people live and move and have their being. Only by abiding, not by trying harder, does a branch receive abundant life from the vine that nurtures and sustains it. Abide.

If you are weary, come to Jesus and find rest for your souls. This is controversial. Resting in a restless world is provocative at best and offensive at worst. But Christ came to afflict the comfortable-those who believed they had it all together- and comfort the afflicted-those who understood the weight of their imperfections. If you, dear Christian, feel afflicted- by the world, by people around you, by your own inner demons- Christ has come to be a comfort to you. If you are tired of trying your hardest but getting nowhere, come to Him and rest. This is not the way our world operates so if this seems unsettling, remember that Christ does not give as the world gives. His yoke is easy to bear and the burden he gives is light.

If and when all of those promises you make to yourself and the resolutions you stand by so confidently at the beginning of January, go to pieces by February or March, remember these words: The answer is not trying harder but abiding more deeply in Christ.

Abide in the vine and rest. In Christ, you have all you need for life and godliness. There is nothing you lack when connected to Him.

Isaiah 15:30: “For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

 Matthew 11: 28-30: “Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear and the burden I give you is light.”

 John 15:4-5: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

 Galatians 5:17: “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”

 2 Peter 1:3: “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence.”